How People Learn About Local Communities: 5 Takeaways

In case you haven’t seen it yet, the Pew Research Center just released a very interesting report that takes a look at how people learn about local communities and where they go first for information. In the report are many valuable insights for small business owners to learn from and potentially incorporate into their marketing mix. In case you don’t have time to read the whole document or just want the highlights, below are four stats I think every small business owner should know.

1. The Internet is the top source for information about restaurants and other local businesses.

If you’re of the ilk that believes small business owners don’t need a website or a presence on social media, I’d really like you to read that again. Here, I’ll even write it again.

The Internet is the top source for information about restaurants and other local businesses.

Because of the Web’s ability to sort and collect data, more and more users are going online to seek out reviews and recommendations for where they should eat or which businesses they should check out. This represents a significant change in behavior, as it was once newspapers and news organizations that were sought out for this information. In case you’re thinking this just applies to the younger set, that’s not the case. This statistic is true among all age groups, not simply the under-40 demographic.

Interestingly, the survey mentioned that the Web has been a place where locally oriented content creators can share material with groups that have been largely ignored by mainstream media. You have to wonder if this is what’s driving them online – they’re hunting for information that hasn’t been available to them before. They’re seeking reviews and recommendations for products and restaurants of all types. If this isn’t a compelling reason to create a website, claim your social listings and begin building reviews, I’m not sure what is.

2. Adults under 40 list the Internet as their top source for 12 out of 16 information categories.

According to the survey, adults under 40 consult the Internet first when looking for information about:

  1. Weather
  2. Politics
  3. Crime
  4. Arts/Culture
  5. Local Businesses
  6. Schools
  7. Community Events
  8. Restaurants
  9. Traffic
  10. Taxes
  11. Housing
  12. Local Government
  13. Jobs
  14. Social Services
  15. Zoning/Development

That’s quite a large segment of the local news space. If your business is related to any one of them, you had better make sure you’re putting out information that your consumers can find and that you’re engaging with them. And if you’re part of the traditional media that has lost audiences in these areas, that’s a pretty big wakeup call.

3. Among all adults online, the Internet is the top source of information for five local topics.

Because, yes, I know some of you were getting itchy to tell me below that it’s the only the younger users who go to the Web for local information, that’s not the case. According to the report, among all adults, the Internet is either the most popular source or tied with newspapers for five of the 16 topics:

  • Restaurants
  • Other Local Businesses
  • Schools
  • Housing
  • Local Jobs

And as today’s younger users become the norm and the older users become more comfortable turning to the Web for local information, you can expect these numbers to only increase.

It’s also worth noting that when the study says consumers are going online to learn about housing or local jobs, they’re not going to the websites of local news publications. According to the report, rankings for these sites were way down.

4. Nearly half of adults get local news and information via mobile devices.

I found it interesting to hear that 47 percent of adults get at least some local news and information via their smartphones or tablet computers, whether it be to check weather, find local restaurants or businesses, check sport scores, get coupons or perform some other “out and about” activity. I wouldn’t have imagined the number to be quite so high, but it does show the power of the SoLoMo revolution and why it’s so important that businesses get involved in that space.

5. More than 40 percent of adults are considered “local news participators.”

Another reason SMBs give for why they’re not getting involved in social media is because they believe their audience isn’t there. And that could still be true – but you may want to give it another check to see if that’s really the case. According to the report, 41 percent of adults are considered “local news participators” because of their social media activity.

To be awarded that title, they must:

  • Contribute their own information via social media and other sources
  • Add to online conversations
  • Directly contribute articles about the community.

That’s a large number of people now using the Web to share and contribute content. So before you assume your customers aren’t there, maybe give it just one quick shot.

I’d really encourage all marketers and business owners to go read the Pew Research Center’s report on How People Learn About Their Online Community. It’s fairly lengthy, but it’s packed with some great stats and information. The ones I’ve listed here just scratch the surface.


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

5 Reactions
  1. While I’m not surprised at all that the internet is the new go-to resource for local information, I was surprised that 40%+ were “local news participators”. That’s a lot higher percentage than I would have guessed, but a boon to websites looking to build a community.

  2. Great article, Lisa! As these statistics show, local businesses need to be online now more than ever.

    Personally, the first thing I do before going to a new restaurant is to look for their website. And it never ceases to amaze me how so many of them still don’t have one!

    Specifically, I’m looking for their hours, menus (including prices.) Reviews are helpful, although I typically look for those in a more “unbiased” place – such as Yelp!

    It’s so easy, and not too expensive, to have a website and the benefits to a restaurant seem so obvious. In addition to providing information their prospective patrons want to see, it offers the opportunity to give coupons/discounts (they don’t have to be huge) to patrons who visit them online. Plus, there are multiple avenues of social media available to help increase traffic to the site and ultimately, the establishment.

    Not to mention, the initial financial investment for these tactics doesn’t have to be all that high and the potential for it to come back to the business-owner through the increase in customers/guests, is.

    Thanks for offering these valuable takeaways!

    Virtually Yours,

Win $100 for Vendor Selection Insights

Tell us!
No, Thank You